Even limited strength training can have positive effects on young exercisers, according to a new report.

Even limited strength training can have positive effects on young exercisers, according to a new report in the May/June issue of Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach (www.sportshealthjournal.org).

Co-authors Katherine Stabenow Dahab and Teri Metcalf McCambridge, both physicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, contend that participation in a strength training program lasting as little as eight to 12 weeks during childhood and especially during adolescence can increase strength by 30 to 50 percent, while improving bone mineral density, body composition, balance, blood lipid profiles and self-esteem. They then recommend an individualized program based on age, maturity and personal goals of the young athlete.

A comprehensive youth strength training routine should incorporate:

  • Ten to 20 minutes of warm-up and cool-down (five to 10 minutes for each segment)
  • A variety of resistance types (free weights, weight machines, rubber tubing and medicine balls)
  • Training the major muscle groups (chest, shoulders, back, arms, legs, abdomen and lower back)
  • A balanced effort between flexion and extension of the upper and lower-body joints
"The goal is to perform two to three exercises per muscle group. Start with one to two sets per exercise, with 6 to 15 repetitions in each set," Dahab says. "The participant should rest one to three minutes between sets. Appropriate weight should allow 10 to 15 repetitions to be completed with proper form, some fatigue, but not complete exhaustion."

Adult supervision is critical to prevent the misuse of equipment, inappropriate weight amounts or improper technique, according to the study, a comprehensive review of relevant research, consensus guidelines and position statements on safe and effective youth strength training.

"The health benefits of strength training far outweigh the potential risks," says Dahab. "This is especially important in today's society where childhood obesity rates continue to rise."

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